A French study has found what researchers believe to be the first case of a baby contracting COVID-19 while still in its mother's womb.
Babies have previously been diagnosed with the coronavirus at a very young age; in early February, a Chinese newborn was found to have the virus just 30 hours after being born, but it was unclear if it had been transmitted before or after birth. Doctors in France say the boy in this case study – published in Nature Communications – developed an inflammation in the brain days after being born, having been infected when the virus crossed the placenta.
The baby boy has since made a full recovery without the help of any specific medication.
The baby's mother had contracted COVID-19 in her third trimester, and after being admitted to hospital doctors saw that her baby was showing signs of distress. Medical staff carried out an emergency caesarean, before the baby was incubated in a neonatal intensive care unit. Tests on the baby's blood and fluid extracted from his lungs revealed that the virus had spread from his mother's blood into her placenta, and on to the baby.
"Unfortunately, there is no doubt about the transmission in this case," Daniele De Luca, medical director of paediatrics and neonatal critical care at Paris' Antoine Béclère hospital, told The Guardian. "Clinicians must be aware that this may happen. It's not common, that's for sure – but it may happen, and it must be considered in the clinical workout."
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"The reason this has not been demonstrated before is that you need a lot of samples," De Luca continued. "You need the maternal blood, the newborn blood, the cord blood, the placenta, the amniotic fluid, and it's extremely difficult to get all these samples in a pandemic with emergencies all around. There have been some suspected cases, but they remain suspected because nobody had the opportunity to test all of this and check the pathology of the placenta."
A number of babies have died after contracting the coronavirus; in England, a 13-day-old baby with no underlying health conditions became one of the country's youngest COVID-19 victims in June, while in May a three-day-old baby died in a Welsh hospital after its mother contracted the virus.
However, De Luca sought to reassure expecting mothers. "Pregnant women should be reassured," he said. "Pregnancy is very controlled, and if you have something like this it can be controlled. In most cases there will be no damage to the baby. There are many things we can do, but we can't close our eyes and say this is never going to happen."
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.